Houston may be jumbled mess, but it has bargains and affordable golf

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

HOUSTON, Texas - Houston may be a concrete jungle with its messy jumble of beltways, freeways, interstates and tollways.

It may be a zoning mess - it is the largest city in the U.S. without zoning laws - with strip malls and skyscrapers appearing seeminly at random.

It may not be for everyone, but it does have its advantages, which is why many natives and locals swear they wouldn't live anywhere else.

For example, it is one of the cheapest places of its size in the country to eat out - and Houstonians love to eat out.

It has low tax rates, no state income tax, affordable housing, good education, and a mild climate. It has major league sports, of course, and for the culturally-minded, it has permanent ballet, opera, symphony and theatre companies. Houston, in fact, has the third-largest population of working artists in the U.S.

Along with that affordable housing, there is affordable golf. Green fees at Houston-area courses are relatively cheap compared to other similar-sized urban areas, and there is a surprisingly wide variety of courses in such a land of flat terrain.

It has its share of exclusive golf clubs, but it also has some very good public, daily-fee courses. Here are some of the better bargains:

Wildcat Golf Club is built over an old dump, the former site of an oil field, set near a railroad junction. Pieces of old, rusted pump jacks, storage tanks and other unidentifiable, industrial detritus still litter the golf grounds. Before you start thinking toxic infestation, take the short drive from downtown Houston: this is one of the most scenic and interesting courses in the area.

It's one of only two courses in the city, for example. There are elevation changes as drastic as 100 feet, and the whole course winds up, down and through these here hills. Case mixed in a nice variety of uphill and downhill shots that ensure quite a few blind and semi-blind shots, both off the tee and to the green. There are very few trees.

Green fees are reasonable, if you're willing to spend some time figuring them out. Weekend rates are $69 for non-members, $62 for members. Twilight rates are $52 and $47 and super twilight rates are $40 and $36.

Juniors can play for $35 and $31 for junior members, with twilight junior rates at $43 and $37 for members. Juniors can play for $15 at supertwilight rates, and for free if they are a member.

Or, forget all that and pay $250 a month for unlimited golf.

Sugar Hill Golf Club is a links-style course with man-made hills, giving both privacy and city views. It's close to the Galleria area and Beltway 8, so it's easily accessible.

Weekday rates are $30 and $22 for twilight, with weekend rates at $40 weekends $32 at twilight.

Juniors who are willing to walk can play for $15 weekdays; seniors for $25. The club has various specials, including a $100 green fee for four on weekdays that includes carts. It has a "buddy system," in which your buddy plays half price every day except holidays. Ladies play two for $30 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

High Meadow Ranch Golf Club,in southwest Montgomery County, is in the "rustic" country development of High Meadow Ranch, with large stands of native pine and oak and dense hardwoods and natural ravines.

It was rated the No. public golf course in Houston by The Houston Chronicle and the Houston Sports News, as well as the 23rd best course in Texas by Golf Digest. Designed by Tim Nugent and David Ogrin, it has hosted PGA qualifying school events.

Weekday green fees, not including cart, are $49, $59 on Fridays and $69 weekends, The club offers twilight rates from $40-$45. Seniors can play for $40, juniors 17 and under for $15 all day with a paid adult or after 3 p,m. There is also a $20 replay based on availability with no booked tee time.

The Houston Chronicle named the south course at the Blackhorse Golf Club the "Ultimate Public Golf Course" in 2003. "Ultimate" may be a little too strong, but the course, a daily fee facility about 25 minutes from downtown, is definitely one of the better public courses in the area, especially for the price.

Dramatic, natural elements always make for a more interesting golf course. In this case, it's an "authentic" sand quarry that provides that touch. Of course, a sand quarry isn't exactly natural and, in fact, the sand has been replaced by water.

Still, it's a dynamic feature that gives architectural contrast to the sand, rolling fairways and oak trees that are scattered around the course.

Green fees range from $25 for super twilight to $65 weekdays and $85 on weekends during the prime season.

Cypresswood Golf Club has 54 holes of golf. Its Cypress course, designed and developed by Rick Forester, is 6,760 yards with a lot of mounding, grass bunkers and contour cutting. It also features a ton of doglegs, rolling lies in fairways and elevated greens.

The Creek Course is longer with large and rolling greens, but the star of the bunch is the Keith Foster-designed Tradition course, with atypical elevation changes and gentle, rolling fairways with links-style bunkers. It's 7,220 yards from the back tees.

Winter weekday rates are $36 for the Cypress and Creek Course and $45 for the Tradition; $40 and $50 weekends. The club also has twilight (after 2 p.m.) rates at $30 and $40, and supertwilight (after 3 p.m.) rates at $20 and $25.

The Falls Golf Club, designed by Jay Riviere and Dave Marr, opened in 1984 and sits in the rolling, wooded hill country 60 miles west of west Houston: "The gateway to the hill country." It's a heavily wooded course with a series of cascading waterfalls - water comes into play on 10 holes.

Green fees are $50 Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and rose to $65 weekends. Replays are $25. The club also offers a series of "stay and play" packages starting at starting at $60 per person.

Green fees including cart are $50 Monday through Thursday and Friday 7-9 a.m.; $65 Fridays and weekends with an additional nine holes for $12 and $15.

Memorial Park Golf Club is an old Houston landmark, a long straight-forward course in the middle of the city that locals love.

Weekday rates are $22.50 with twilight rates of $15 after 1:30 p.m., and weekends are $32 with twilight rates of $20.

Seniors can play for a lowly $8 Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and juniors get even a better deal at $6 the same days. None of the prices include carts, which can be rented from $3 for a pull cart up to $20 for a full cart for 18 holes.

Southwyck Golf Club is a links-style, Scottish course and, true to style, features lots of heather. With few trees, it can be a bear when the wind blows.

Weekday green fees are $47 and $59 weekends.

Slightly more expensive are:

Panther Trails at the Woodlands Resort is 30 minutes north of Houston. It's a very pleasant resort course, not too demanding, that winds through a fairly quiet, fairly ritzy neighborhood that is one of the better known areas in this part of south Texas.

Green fees are $63-$73 weekdays and $73-$83 weekends.

Meadowbrook Farms Golf Club is a Greg Norman design that was basically a piece of lonesome Texas prairie with a line of trees running along on one side of a creek bed.

With this piece of ground, Norman decided to hit you with a case of claustrophobia, enveloping you with trees, then cure you with views of wide Texas vistas - even if those vistas are largely of a burgeoning residential community and prairie scrublands an interesting course to play and worthy of its green fees, which range from $62 to $85.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
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